Polish President Andrzej Duda on Tuesday ratified a bill which allows the justice minister to to replace judges in the country's ordinary courts. Duda also blocked two other government-backed bills that would have empowered the government and parliament to replace Supreme Court judges and most members of a high-level judicial panel.
The European Commission said on Wednesday it would launch swift legal action against Poland if it begins dismissing judges under the controversial law signed by the President, saying it undermines the independence of judges and breaks EU rules, both accusations denied by Warsaw.
Frans Timmermans, the first vice-president of the European commission, warned that the EU was “very close” to triggering article 7, referring to a legal process of suspending Poland's voting rights in the 28-nation EU. Warsaw dismissed the Commission objections.
"We will not tolerate any blackmail from EU officials, especially blackmails that are not based on facts," government spokesman Rafal Bochenek told state new agency PAP. “We regret that Timmermans, who is unfamiliar with the draft laws and Poland’s legal regulations, has formulated unfair criticism against Poland” he said.
Deputy Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, who apart from holding the post of deputy prime minister is also Poland's minister of economic development and finance, told Bloomberg: “My understanding of the whole situation is that 80 percent of Polish society wants the judiciary system to be reformed.”
Mr Morawiecki admitted that Polish relations with the EU have been “not so rosy over the last 18 months."
"But I believe there were lots of misunderstandings in all of this... everybody agrees that the post-communist judiciary system needs reform because there were not too many changes after 1989” when communism collapsed in Poland.
Mr Morawiecki played down the risks for the Polish economy: “Markets and investors are for me critically important... We do everything to make sure that investors are happy and they are certain about our democracy.” He also added: “The Polish currency strengthened from the beginning of this year significantly. It was the strongest currency of all the emerging markets in the world. So there is a vote of confidence.”
In an interview with the Financial Times, Mr Morawiecki said:
“When I talk to investors, and when investors look more into the details [of the laws], they are not afraid for the rule of law, they are not afraid for democracy, they are not afraid for the judicial system,” he said. “They would like the judicial system to be more effective. If you look at facts and figures, there are so many new investors coming from all over the world.”
Article 7 is designed to punish a member state that refuses to respect the bloc's common law and values. Four-fifths of the member states (22 of the 27 that would vote) need to approve a formal warning about a breach of the rule of law under article 7. It would require unanimity to suspend Poland’s voting rights and the Hungarian prime minister, Viktor Orbán, has vowed to protect Warsaw from such a move.
Sources: Reuters, Bloomberg, Financial Times